Friday, September 13, 2013

If Not True, What?

Scott Bradley

Zhuangzi's position is that every thing has its own perspective and that its true/false and right/wrong are determined by that perspective. Thus, we call him a perspectival relativist. Ziporyn tells us that it is important for understanding this that we also understand that, for Zhuangzi, a thing also has a perspective (Hiding the World in the World, pp. 35, 46), as if we were not already troubled enough by the idea that truth and right and wrong are not somehow fixed and sure transcendent realities. A thing might be said to have a perspective in that in being a thing it is being a particular thing in contrast to other things, or in contrast to not being a thing at all.

However, this position is really just another perspective. So how can Zhuangzi privilege it and suggest that we consider adopting it? True, it has a certain 'higher' feel to it; a point of view that affirms all other points of view sounds more 'spiritual'; but if we were to accept this argument we would be contradicting the brute fact that it is no better than any other perspective, given Zhuangzi's perspectival relativism. The answer is simple enough: It enables us to live more happily in the world — it works.

It does not work if we simply think about it or believe it. It only works when we become it. The whole galaxy of positive outcomes that Zhuangzi suggests as consequent to our opening into vastness are his only recommendation for this way; no appeal is made to transcendent truth; it's all very pragmatic. For the same reason, not adopting this view is also a perfectly valid option. Only Zhuangzi might say that in so doing, besides missing out on an opportunity for more harmonious living, we are also failing to authentically align with what is obvious.

It seems to me that Zhuangzi suggests many doors into the experience of freedom that he envisions; this understanding of the equality of all perspectives is just one, and if we stumble here, other points of entry are possible. All these 'doors' share a common insight and perhaps once 'inside' they all become clear, but until then there are some that are harder than others to understand or realize. Personally, it is the non-dependence realized through total dependence that I find most accessible.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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